Friday, January 13, 2012

Standing on the Side of Justice and Love?

Recently, The United Methodist Church General Board of Pension and Health Benefits decided to add another social screen to their investment portfolio: companies related to private prisons. This adds to the current screens of gambling, the manufacture, sale, or distribution of tobacco-related products, weapons, and pornography. This continues to keep the pension funds of clergy and lay employees in line with the denomination's historic stand for social justice.

I am very happy that The UMC is concerned about those on the margins  enough to make a commitment not to profit from (or add to the profit of) companies that support systems of injustice.

I wonder, however, how well The UMC would fair if some companies that we are in partnership with utilized certain social screens?  Would they continue to do business with The UMC?

Every clergy and lay employee whose pension is through GBPHB has free access to Ernst and Young Financial Planning Services.  This is valuable and important for those whose careers do not exactly offer a windfall of economic gain. But interestingly enough, Ernst and Young has just been named The Employer of the Year by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender advocacy group, Stonewall.

The UMC, with its own version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", speaks out of both corners of its mouth when talking about homosexuality. The church believes in equal rights for gay men and lesbians in society, but not within the church. Gay and lesbian couples ought to have their relationships protected by law, but cannot have those same relationships blessed in their house of worship by their pastor.  Gay men and lesbians ought to be able to serve freely in the military, but self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be admitted as ordination candidates, ordained clergy, or appointed to churches.  All this because the church states that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

This year, The United Methodist Church will gather as it does every 4 years to determine how the Holy Spirit is moving the church to live with greater faithfulness into the future.  Nearly one thousand delegates will spend two weeks in prayer, conversation, study and legislative activities, providing a new set guidelines for the people called United Methodist. One of the issues that will be discussed and debated is homosexuality.  For forty years, this has been an issue which has divided the church, yet the voting body has been unable to even acknowledge that the divide exists, voting down time after time a simple recognition that the church does not agree on this issue. As a result, United Methodist gay men and lesbians have been told that their lives and their love are incompatible with Christian teaching. This pronouncement flies in the face of a God who causes each one of us to proclaim in our own voice, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139)

As we prayerfully approach General Conference, I wonder where, how, and what God is saying to us regarding homosexuality:
  • as our sister and brother mainline Protestant denominations have moved to accept the gifts and graces of gay and lesbian members,
  • as state after state offers legal recognition through marriage equality or domestic partnerships of gay and lesbian couples,
  • as the US military sees that gay men and lesbians can serve as faithfully and valiantly as straight service men and women,
  • as young people turn to suicide because of the church's complicit support of bullying,
  • as more and more companies that The UMC does business with have more just employment policies than the church.
The United Methodist Church has a long history of standing on the side of justice and love. What side will we be standing on after the final votes are cast at General Conference?